In one glance, lasting no more than two seconds, Kip Miller watches the puck slide up the boards, locates teammate Jaromir Jagr heading to the net and plots a plan of attack. Miller rushes to the puck, drawing two New York Islanders to him, and in one motion controls it, puts it between his legs and backhands it blindly to the spot where he thinks, or feels -- or perhaps knows -- Jagr will be.
Miller is still facing the boards as his pass lands directly on Jagr's stick for a one-timer, and although his shot in Monday night's 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders did not beat goalie Chris Osgood, the prescient sequence revealed the chemistry between the longtime teammates. A revolving door of left wingers have played on the first line since Jagr arrived in Washington in the summer of 2001, but none has possessed the telepathic awareness that he and Miller share, combining for 17 points over the past two games.
"You've got to have a gift," Jagr said, trying to find words to convey an innate process. "Some players, they start looking around for other players when they have the puck, and other players are looking before they have the puck. . . . The game is so quick that you don't have the time to look at the puck or you're going to get hit right away and you cannot make a play.
"That's the difference. Kip is a very intelligent player. He's always been like that. We play together for three years [in Pittsburgh], maybe more than that, and we don't change. It's two guys working together very well."
Miller, an NHL journeyman, has one goal and five assists over two games since being reunited with Jagr, the league's highest-paid player; Jagr has five goals and 11 points in that span after netting just seven points in his previous 14 games. (Jagr would need four points tonight against the Rangers to tie the league record for most points in a three-game span, held by three players -- Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Peter Stastny.)
Coach Bruce Cassidy was reluctant to play Miller regularly with the first line in the first half of the season, but admits he would be an "idiot" to separate them now.
Cassidy had minor leaguer Ivan Ciernik with Jagr and center Michael Nylander for much of the season, but Ciernik produced only two points in his last 15 games, was taking costly penalties and did not spark Jagr's creativity. Miller has fluctuated between all three forward positions and all four forward lines this season, but clearly seems most at home with Jagr, Miller's linemate during most of his 2 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh.
"Kip is a very smart hockey player," Cassidy said. "When you put him out there with a Jagr, who knows how to get him the puck, Kip's going to look good. But I also think if you put them out there against certain lineups, that line can get themselves in trouble, too, against certain styles. . . . Kip's got to recognize there are going to be nights when those blind passes are not going to work for you, including late in the third period [Monday] night. He's a risk-reward player, I understand that, but he's got to figure out the times to do it and times not to do it, and normally he does. But I just want to be careful with that line."
Jagr is hardly surprised that Miller has helped him out of a slump. Jagr was in a funk in 1998, when Miller was first put on his line. The Penguins were trailing 6-2 in the third period of a game, but Miller and Jagr clicked for four points to tie the score. Ever since, they have brought out the best in each other.
In two games Jagr has jumped from 32nd in the NHL in points to 10th, and his 23 goals are tied for fifth in the league. Jagr went 40 games without a three-point night prior to Saturday, but has scored three points in the first period alone in the last two contests. He went 52 games without a multi-goal game before netting five in the last two games.
Miller, who signed a modest $500,000 free agent contract in the summer, ranks fourth on the team with 23 assists and his 30 points are only 12 off his career high. Miller has four goals and 13 points in his last 11 games after scoring two points in 10 games before that.
"When [Jagr] is skating like he is right now, for me, he's easy to play with," Miller said. "I just kind of always know he's going to be open. Earlier in the year, when he was struggling, he wasn't skating so well, and it's hard to play with him and it's hard to play with me. It's just tougher, but when he's feeling like he is right now nobody can stop him, and all I'm basically doing is giving him the puck and watching him go."
Capitals Notes: The Capitals could tie a franchise record tonight by earning a standings point for a 14th straight game. . . .
Goaltender Olaf Kolzig is going for his 200th career win tonight, all of them with Washington. Don Beaupre is second on the franchise list with 128 victories. Kolzig has not lost a game in regulation time since Dec. 1. . . .
The Capitals went 20 games without scoring more than one power play goal in a game before scoring three Saturday and two Monday. Washington has scored on the power play in five of the last six games after scoring power play goals in five of the previous 17 games.
"It's cyclical," Cassidy said. "That was just way too much of a down cycle, and now it's getting its just due."